Report: Diversity numbers at law firms eke out small gains

According to the latest law firm demographic findings from NALP, women and minority partners continued to make small gains in their representation among law firm partners as a whole in 2014, and the percentage of minority associates has gone up for the fourth year in a row after falling in 2010 in the wake of the recession. Although the percentage of women associates increased a bit after eroding from 2010 to 2013, it has yet to go above the 45 percent mark reached in 2009-2012.


NALP's newest findings on law firm demographics reveal that law firms have more than recouped the ground lost when minority associate figures fell in 2010 following widespread associate layoffs in 2009. In addition, the representation of women among associates finally nudged up after declining for four years in a row, returning to the general pattern of steady though small increases in place since NALP started compiling this information in the 1990s. Among associates, the percentage of women had increased from 38.99 percent in 1993 to 45.66 percent in 2009, before falling back in each of the four following years. The trend reversed in 2014. Over the same period, minority associate percentages have increased from 8.36 percent to 21.63 percent, more than recovering from a slight decline from 2009 to 2010. Representation of minority women among associates has increased from just about 11 percent from 2009-2012 to 11.51 percent in 2014.


In 2014, the percentage of both women and minority partners in law firms across the nation increased a small amount over 2013. Representation of minority women specifically was up by a small amount, as was representation of minorities as a whole. During most of the 22 years that NALP has been compiling this information, law firms had made steady, if somewhat slow, progress in increasing the presence of women and minorities in both the partner and associate ranks. In 2014 that slow upward trend continued for partners, with minorities accounting for 7.33 percent of partners in the nation's major firms, and women accounting for 21.05 percent of the partners in these firms. In 2013, the figures were 7.10 percent and 20.22 percent, respectively. Nonetheless, the total change since 1993, the first year for which NALP has comparable aggregate information, has been only marginal. At that time minorities accounted for 2.55 percent of partners and women accounted for 12.27 percent of partners. At just 2.45 percent of partners in 2014, minority women continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions. This is despite small but consistent year-over-year increases. The representation of minority women partners is somewhat higher, 2.98 percent, at the largest firms of more than 700 lawyers. Minority men, meanwhile, account for just 4.88 percent of partners this year, compared with 4.84 percent in 2013. This means that most of the relative increase in minorities among partners can be attributed to increased representation of minority women.

Lawyers Overall

For lawyers as a whole, representation of women (both minority and non-minority) was up by about seven-tenths of a percentage point and is now higher than in 2009, after being below that level from 2010-2013. The representation of minorities among lawyers as a whole also rose a bit in 2014, to 13.83 percent. Some of the gain among women overall can be attributed to increases in women among the partnership ranks. However, it should also be noted that some of the increase can be attributed to increased representation of women in general and minority women specifically among lawyers other than partners and associates, such as "of counsel" and staff attorneys, who in 2014 accounted for 13 percent of attorneys at these firms. For example, women accounted for about 40 percent of these other attorneys in 2014, compared with about 38 percent in 2013 - a bigger increase than in any other category. Nonetheless, since the overall figure for women fell in both 2010 and 2011, the increases in the past three years mean that the overall percentage for women, at 33.48 percent, remains just one-half of one percentage point higher than in 2009, when the figure was 32.97 percent. Minorities now make up 13.83 percent of lawyers at these law firms, compared with 13.36 percent in 2013. Minority women now account for 6.74 percent of lawyers at these firms, up from 6.49 percent in 2013.

Summer Associates

The representation of women and minorities in the summer associate ranks compare much more favorably to the population of recent law school graduates. According to the American Bar Association, since 2000, the percentage of minority law school graduates has ranged from 20 percent to over 25 percent, while women have accounted for 46 percent to 49 percent of graduates, with the high point coming in the mid-2000s. In 2014, women comprised 46.33 percent of summer associates, minorities accounted for 30.27 percent, and 16.63 percent of summer associates were minority women. Although all of these measures improved over 2013, when every figure went down, the representation of women as a whole is below what it was in 2009, though still in line with the representation of women among law school graduates as a whole. In addition, the overall number of summer associates remains off by about one-third compared with 2009, despite increases in the numbers after they bottomed out in 2010 and 2011.

Published: Mon, Mar 02, 2015